A systematic review published in PLOS ONE found that kids are more likely to develop cancer sometime in their lives when exposed to grandparents. This also doesn’t mean that grandparents are radioactive or that grandkids should should use eGrandparents to try to quit their grandparents.
Rather, researchers from the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the National Health Service and the University of Stirling in England searched for all available scientific studies and found that many of grandma’s and grandpa’s common behaviors were bad for their grandkids’ health. Many of these behaviors seem to stem from the complex dynamic between grandparents and parents. Indeed, grandparents can be like a former starting quarterback who is now a backup consciously or unconsciously trying to undermine the current starting quarterback (picture grandma and grandpa with football helmets and pads). Grandparents may compete for the attention, affection, and love of their children’s children by:
- Overfeeding their grandkids
- Offering unhealthy food
- Being more lax on screen time and other sedentary behaviors
Giving children what their parents refuse to offer (in other words, playing good cops to the parents’ bad cops) is a quick way to win appreciation and affection. Alternatively, grandparents may be overcompensating for being too strict when they were parents by being too lenient with their grandchildren. Moreover, grandparents continue practices that have since been deemed unhealthy, such as feeding kids tremendous amounts of beef jerky. Another such practice is smoking, which could expose grandkids to secondhand smoke and influence grandkids to smoke. All of these grandparent behaviors can in turn lead to grandchildren being overweight, having unhealthy diets, failing to get enough physical activity, or smoking, all risk factors for cancer.
The solution then is not necessarily to ban grandpa or grandma from any contract with your children (or get a reindeer to do something dastardly). Instead, pay attention to how your parents and in-laws may be adversely influencing or affecting your children’s health. Openly discuss your children’s health and coordinate your approaches to eating, physical activity, and other habits with your parents and in-laws. Be aware of how dynamics and competition with your parents and in-laws may ultimately affect how they treat your children. Your children should not be pawns in a chess match. In general, try to have the whole family (extended family included) agree on what would be most beneficial and healthy for your children. And if you are a grandchild, beware of grandpa and grandma trying to buy your love with candy and television. Opt for cash or stock options instead.
Of course, not all grandparents are just competitive, undermining backup quarterbacks who are trying to overstuff their grandchildren, lure them with bacon bits and Netflix, and turn them into smokers. You can have healthy relationships with your parents and in-laws. And even if your relationships aren’t optimal, you can still agree on what’s good for your children. Grandparents can serve as role models for healthier lifestyles, help with cooking, take your kids out to exercise, and teach them healthy habits. So, it won’t be anytime soon that doctors will ask, “do you smoke, do you get regular exercise, and do you have grandparents” when trying to assess your cancer risk.